May 2007
Volume 3, Number 1
Table of Contents

Checklists for Discovery and Strategic Planning

Weaknesses in Drug Analysis

Use the materials obtained during discovery and answer the following list of questions regarding the validity of lab results to develop a strategy for the defense case or troubleshoot for the prosecution. Keep these questions in mind when investigating:

1. Were the laboratory's testing procedures scientifically valid?

2. Were the methods as performed compliant with approved and validated procedures?

3. Can the laboratory's activities, observations, and results be reconstructed solely on the basis of the available records?

4. Did the laboratory comply with applicable elements of its own internal rules and regulations?

5. Did the laboratory comply with generally-accepted standards of a quality assurance program?

6. Were all measurement systems and instruments in accord with scientific controls at the time of the analyses?

7. Are the reported uncertainties consistent with methodology, validation, and quality control results?

8. Are measurements traceable through appropriate use of calibration, standards, and reference materials?

9. Was the forensic scientist/technician properly trained in the appropriate procedures?

10. Were all steps taken to avoid cross-contamination or degradation of the sample during analysis?

11. Was the laboratory sufficiently well-designed and operated to avoid increased risk of contamination?

12. Did the laboratory have any controls to determine if a sample was contaminated?

13. Does the laboratory have a good or bad reputation in the type of analysis at issue in the case?

14. Can evidence of a bad reputation be obtained?

Checklist of Evidence to Obtain During Discovery

1. A step-by-step list of all persons who had contact with the sample at any stage of the collection, analysis, handling, packaging, storage, transport, documentation process, including their

a. education,

b. experience,

c. membership in professional societies, and

d. role played in collecting, analyzing, storing, transporting, or documenting the sample.

The above information should be produced in the form of a résumé, curriculum vitae, and/or personnel file or files for all persons involved in the handling, receipt, storage, packaging, transport, preparation, analysis, documentation of results of the test.

2. Personnel files of police personnel involved in the collection, handling, storage, transport of the original sample.

3. Copies of all complaints or lawsuits filed against anyone, including law enforcement officers and lab personnel involved in

a. collection of the sample,

b. handling of the sample, in any way, and/or

c. forensic laboratory used in the processing of the drug analysis.

4. Copies of training manuals used to govern procedures or policies in the laboratory.

5. Reports, proficiency tests or results thereof, relating to the laboratory's ability to conduct analyses of controlled substances.

6. Identification and documentation of any changes made in the last three years in response to proficiency tests, audits, or other methods of assessment.

7. Documentation of accreditation for the laboratory.

8. Information about the laboratory procedures and standards, including

a. copies of "quality manuals,"

b. "standard operating procedures,"

c. "quality procedures,"

d. internal audit schedules and reports, and

e. inventory of laboratory equipment.

9. Copies of validation studies as to the analytical methods used to test the sample.

10. Documentation of assumptions and basis for statistical analysis of results.

11. Copies of any previous testimony in narcotics prosecutions provided by the forensic chemist, technician, or policeman involved in the case.

12. Chain of custody for collection of sample through testing and storage, including

a. all written records, notes, or other documentation prepared by all persons who had any contact with the sample, including but not limited to police, forensic chemists, technicians, examiners relating to

i. sample collection,

ii. identification,

iii. transport,

iv. receipt of sample by forensic laboratory,

v. storage,

vi. processing, and

vii. testing.

13. All documentation of technical procedures used to analyze the nature of the controlled substance and identify it, including but not limited to:

14. All tests conducted on the sample, including but not limited to tests used to determine the presence and concentration and form of drugs or chemicals used to prepare or process the sample.

15. Describe all procedures used in testing the sample, including copies of all laboratory protocols consulted.

16. Describe all scientific equipment used to test the sample, including

a. state of repair,

b. when last checked for accuracy, and

c. how the examiner determined it was functioning prior to testing the sample.

17. All documentation produced in relation to the testing process, including

a. computer print-outs,

b. graphs, and

c. other data that documented the testing process.

18. Description of documentation that might have been discarded, and the reasons for it having been discarded.

19. All criteria used to review and interpret the test results, including but not limited to documents, reports, treatises, texts, peer reviews, used to interpret the test results.

20. All field test kits used to analyze the sample, or any field documentation of the collector's identification of the sample.

21. All documentation of the preparation and verification of the test reagents  (including tests used to validate that the methodology was proper for identification purposes).

22. Examples of data produced or obtained by the test analysis.

23. Quality assurance and standardized guidance relating to the test analysis.

24. Quality assurance standards for the laboratory as it relates to analysis of controlled substances generally.

25. Names and descriptions of all external quality assurance programs that relate to the determination of the laboratory's ability to operate during the time period in question.

26. All internal quality assurance policies and procedures used to ensure and support the reliability of drug testing and the result reported for an individual sample.

27. All studies conducted by the laboratory relating to drug testing and the occurrence or frequency of "false positives."

The above list is not exhaustive, nor is every type of documentation discoverable in every case, depending on the rules of the jurisdiction, the proclivities of the judge, and the cooperativeness of the prosecution. However, the checklist serves as a reminder of the scope of documentation that provides insight into possible weaknesses in the government's scientific case.

Copyright West, a Thomson business

Back to Top